‘Jane Steele’ throws back to ‘Jane Eyre’
Early on in this novel, the main character reports, “Reader, I murdered him.”
Thus we learn pretty quickly that our heroine, who is a big admirer of Jane Eyre, has a bit of a different approach to dealing with those who treat her poorly.
In many ways, our Jane’s life parallels Bronte’s character: she is orphaned at a young age and is sent to a girls’ school to train as a governess. Her treatment there is harsh.
She flees and lives a life on the streets of London for a while until winding up as governess at an estate owned by a handsome man with a young female ward.
But the similarity ends there.
From the start, Jane Steele chooses to defend herself against unwanted advances and other assaults and threats. In fact, in this re-imagining of the Jane Eyre story, the heroine becomes a serial killer.
Another twist that you won’t find in Bronte’s story is that Mr. Thornfield, the owner of Highgate House where she is a governess, is recently returned from the Punjab Empire, and the household is not that of your typical British estate.
His butler and many of his household staff are Sikhs, and the house is decorated in a very Eastern style.
His ward, Sahjara, is half- Indian and has been rescued from the violent situation of the last days of the Punjab Empire.
The billiard room has been turned into a repository of his huge collection of exotic weapons, and the meals are a far cry from Yorkshire pudding.
But there are mysteries to Mr. Thornfield and his ward, and the house and the young girl come under attack.
Meanwhile, Jane is trying to recover her inheritance, which was often alluded to by her mother, but sadly without much detail or proof.
While trying to help out, but without wanting to reveal her murderous past, Jane becomes deeply involved in the situation.
As she falls under the romantic spell of Mr. Thornfield, she must decide her best course of action, all things considered.
This novel is cleverly written with many little throw backs to Jane Eyre.
Here we have Mr. Thornfield, which was the name of Mr. Rochester’s estate.
Jane Eyre is somewhat ethereal and is largely blown with the currents of her life. Jane Steele, on the other hand, is as sharp and hard–edged as her name implies.
There is also much clever banter between Jane and Mr. Thornfield as well as with Sidhar Singh, the butler.
As the novel moves toward its conclusion, the pace quickens and the action and suspense do as well. Secrets are revealed and mysteries solved.
Contemporary books that attempt to continue a classic story or re-imagine the plot with some cute twist often don’t work for me.
But Lyndsay Faye has done a captivating and brilliant job.
Mary Swanson owns The Bookloft in Enterprise.